Agri-Products Inc. employee John Medinger welds a mulcher to be shipped to Oklahoma. Agri-Products has undertaken developing a hemp harvester implement.

YORK — The idea sprouted after a trip to Oregon.

Don Freeman III of Agri-Products Inc. in York visited a friend in Oregon, and saw the state’s booming hemp industry – tens of thousands of acres worth, from over 1,000 licensed growers. Oregon’s success inspired Freeman. Between him and his friend, the idea for designing a hemp harvester was born.

Bill Achord, President of the Nebraska Hemp Association said hemp has three primary growing purposes: fiber, dual crop, and CBD. “Most people are going to grow dual,” Achord said.

Agri-Products, however, is lasering their focus on CBD harvesting. This hemp product -- cannabidiol -- makes up a significant part of the plant.

“CBD requires a lot of manual labor,” Achord said. Agri-Products is working on creating something more specialized. Freeman said their harvester will separate the flowers and leaves from the hemp stem; the flowers being where CBD is most concentrated.

CBD can be obtained in much of the United States, but its exact legal status shifts from state to state. “All 50 states have laws legalizing CBD with varying degrees of restriction, and while the federal government still considers CBD in the same class as marijuana, it doesn’t habitually enforce against it,” according to the Harvard University Health blog. Often CBD’s legality depends on whether it is derived from hemp or its cousin, marijuana. Some clinical preliminary research has tested CBD’s effect on anxiety, movement disorders and pain.

Nebraska Unicameral Revised Statute 28-463 to 28-468’s purpose “is to permit medical professionals to conduct limited-scope, evidence-based studies exploring the safety and efficacy of treating intractable seizures and treatment resistant seizures using cannabidiol.”

Achord indicated he thinks relaxing regulations is paramount to the Nebraska’s hemp industry potential. “Unfortunately the government administration and the department of agriculture have not been very helpful,” he said.

The harvester’s testing is going to be on an Oregon farm Agri-Products has partnered with, Freeman said. He said there will be challenges brought on by this testing decision, particularly with testing so far away. “There are going to be changes that need to be made [after testing],” Freeman said.

“There’s a learning curve with hemp, as there is with any crop,” Achord said.

Fortunately for Agri-Products, the business was recently awarded a Value-Added Agriculture Prototype grant in the amount of $18,875.”What’s wonderful about the value-added agriculture prototype grants, is the value-added grants funds up to 80 percent of the project versus the 50 percent typically awarded in the prototype grants,” said York County Development Corporation (YCDC) Executive Director Lisa Hurley. “The prototype grant project is it will help the company finalize design, perform needed testing, and make needed changes to the equipment,” Hurley explained.

York County Development Corporation played a substantial role in Agri-Products obtaining the grant. “We used their guidance throughout the process,” Freeman said.

“YCDC helped to facilitate the process with [Nebraska Department of Economic Development], including phone calls to explain the project to staff, and walked through the needed documents -- such as a project business plan, to ensure the company is in the best position when the grant application is submitted,” Hurley said.

“This is exciting that another [hemp] company has received a grant,” Achord said.

Part of the grant’s requirements is that Freeman and the Agri-Products team finishes their hemp harvester project by October 1. Freeman said he was unsure as to demand, but had a general idea. “Right now we don’t know,” he said. “What we hear is that you could sell ten a year.”

Should Nebraska alter its policies concerning hemp products and producers, Achord said it could become a major industry. There were 176 applicants for a Nebraska hemp producer’s permit, according to Achord. The Nebraska Department of Agriculture approved ten producers for its 2019 season expanded hemp pilot program.

Achord said he hopes someday the hemp industry will flourish in Nebraska. “Nebraska has the potential to produce a lot,” he said. “The plant is very adaptable.”

In the meantime, Agri-Products will focus primarily on out-of-state sales, though Nebraska lacks regulations concerning buying hemp-related farm equipment, according to Achord.

Freeman said hemp production is a “close-knit industry,” with equipment sales primarily obtained via word-of-mouth. “It’s really about the product quality and efficiency,” he said.

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